Franks Gives Investigations Update; Praises Troop Morale
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2002 Reported friendly fire incidents in Afghanistan are "regrettable," but such incidents are part of war, said the chief of U.S. military operations in that country today.
Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, U.S. Central Command's commander-in-chief, told Pentagon reporters his command has investigated and is currently investigating alleged incidents of friendly fire in Afghanistan. He said CENTCOM is also looking into other incidents involving purported mistreatment of detainees.
However, "we are not ever going to be able to absolutely eradicate the loss of life, and in some cases, the loss of the wrong life, when we are engaged in this kind of operation," Franks said.
The general noted that in six months of combat operations in Afghanistan, U.S. and coalition forces have flown more than 36,000 sorties and dropped 21,737 weapons as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Some munitions are reported to have hit the wrong targets, and Franks said his command is reviewing allegations of these and other incidents, as well as allegations of detainee mistreatment. Current information on the status of those reviews is available on CENTCOM's web site: www.centcom.mil.
Franks noted that incidents of friendly fire occur in all militaries and are often attributed to the "fog" or "friction" of war, where unsettling sights and sounds -- and the very uncertainty of life-or-death conflict -- can play havoc with humans and their battle plans.
Incident investigations are important and necessary to determine specific causes of suspected friendly fire, the general noted, so that any lessons learned can be applied.
Some types of these incidents may be avoided in the future "by simply modifying our tactics, techniques, procedures and approaches," Franks remarked.
He noted that the investigation into Jan. 23 U.S.-coalition forces reconnaissance mission on suspected al Qaeda and Taliban compounds near the town of Hazar Qadam was closed.
American troops, dressed in American uniforms, had returned fire after first being fired upon at Hazar Qadam, the general noted. Fourteen people were killed at one compound; two were killed at the other. One U.S. person was injured in the incident.
"I find no fault with very highly trained people who went in on the ground," Franks said, "and I find no fault that those very highly trained people killed people who fired at them.
"I regret the fact that friendly people were killed in this," the general continued. "I regret the fact that each time we lose civilians or non-combatants.
"But the fact of the matter is this is a war," he emphasized.
U.S. troop morale is good, the general noted, after having traveled throughout Afghanistan and other areas to talk with U.S. service members serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"These kids are pumped up," Franks said, "(and,) their leaders are pumped up. I've experienced this in every place that I've been."
American troops -- and their coalition and allied partners -- are now sweeping east, north and south of the Shahi Khot region, Franks said, looking for al Qaeda and Taliban troops and their supplies and equipment.
Afghans have pointed out caves to the searchers, "Where we have, in some cases, found munitions and weapons that go all the way back to the Soviet era," Franks remarked.
Other uncovered al Qaeda or Taliban hiding places have yielded "very fresh computers, documents, passports (and) freshly oiled weapons," he added.